On Wednesday last, the Cabinet (including Green Party Ministers) made a historic decision and gave the go ahead for legislation to be drafted to provide for civil partnerships, on the basis of the recommendations contained in the Colley Report. The outline of this legislation will be seen before the end of March next year.
There’s been a lot of controversy over the last few days about the Green Party and our position on same-sex marriage/civil partnerships etc. I’m going to try and clear up some of the spin that’s been going around.
– In 2006, the Green Party passed a Marriage & Partnership Rights Policy, which I helped draft. It stated our belief full access to civil marriage for same-sex couples was the only way of achieving full equality. This continues to be Green Party policy – full equality will only be achieved when same-sex couples are allowed civil marriage.
– In 2007, we supported the Labour Party Civil Unions Bill. During the debate, our spokesperson, Ciaran Cuffe made the point that while we were supportive of the bill, we did not see the Labour Party proposals on civil unions as going far enough and that we supported full access to same-sex marriage. At the time, the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, spoke about creating protections for same-sex couples, but also for non-married heterosexual couples and indeed, for those living together in non-sexual relationships – two spinster brothers etc.
– McDowell set up a body of experts to look at the options for dealing with same-sex relationships – the Colley Group. In its report, the Colley Group made a number of recommendations including forms of full and partial civil partnership for same-sex couples.
– After the General Election, we entered negotiations with Fianna Fail. Our team, led by John Gormley, requested that the Programme for Government include a commitment to legislating for same-sex marriage. Fianna Fail flatly refused to do this.
– In light of this, John Gormley demanded that the Programme for Government include a commitment to legislate for civil partnerships. In light of this, the following was included in the Programme for Government “Taking account of the options paper prepared by the Colley Group and the pending Supreme Court case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government”.
– During the summer, Green Party representatives were in negotiations with the Minister for Justice over how to proceed on the issue as quickly as possible.
– The Government’s ‘Legislative Programme’ for this year contained a proposal for a bill on Domestic Partnerships which would “provide for certain legal recognitions of persons (cohabitants, same-sex couples and others) in domestic relationships”. The bill falls within the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan.
– Last week, it was announced that the Labour Party were reintroducing their Civil Unions bill.
The Green Party were unhappy with aspects of the proposed Domestic Partnerships bill. It was felt that it did not go far enough in achieving the commitment to legislating for Civil Partnerships in the Programme for Government. As a result of negotiations between the Green Party and the Dept Justice, it was agreed that the title of the bill would be changed to the Civil Partnership Bill. Further, the bill is to deal solely with creating civil partnerships for same-sex couples based on the options presented by the Colley Repo, along with a method by which same-sex or heterosexual couples in dependant relationships can seek redress in the event of their relationship breaking up or one party dying.
The Civil Partnership Bill will not be providing for a new registration scheme for heterosexual couples.
The Civil Partnership Bill will not result in a same-sex couples being treated the same as two brothers living together etc.
Minister Lenihan has committed to bringing the heads of this bill to Cabinet by the end of March next year. After this, a full bill will be laid before the Dail and will be passed in the lifetime of the current Government.
Minister Lenihan was concerned that the Labour Party bill was unconstitutional, and that it risked being struck down by the Supreme Court. If this had happened, the entire process of creating a bill would have to have been started again. There would have been a real possibility that the bill would not have been passed before the next General Election.
In light of his commitment to legislate for Civil Partnerships based on the Colley Report in the lifetime of this Dail, the Green Party voted with the Government against the Labour bill.
If we had voted against the Labour bill, it would have meant the end or our participation in government, and there would have been no pressure on Fianna Fail to legislate for civil partnerships.
As someone who, along with my partner, hopes to enjoy the benefits of a civil partnership, I’m very pleased with the progress that the Green Party has made on this issue. Fianna Fail has accepted the principle that gay and lesbian couples must be protected, and that this protection should be in line with what was proposed in the Colley Report.
Like Katherine Zappone and Anne-Louise Gilligan, I and the Green Party believe that true equality will only come when we are given full access to civil marriage. The bill being proposed by the Government won’t do this – neither would the Labour Party bill. However, what civil partnerships will allow for is protection of important aspects of our relationships, while we continue to fight for complete equality.